PUZZLE: Unthemely #90



For the past eight months all of my income has been derived from the puzzle industry, with the exception of some monthly contributions to the household-expenses kitty made by my mother and condo-mate Sybil. I’ve had aspirations to be a full-time “professional puzzler” for decades but I don’t feel like I’ve made deliberate efforts to attain that particular status. It’s a life that I fell into by serendipity. The responsibilities of puzzle room development for Puzzah!, crossword construction for professional outlets, and program coordination for the National Puzzlers’ League drain my creativity. Working on the Unthemely crossword series is something of a busman’s holiday. The grid for Unthemely #90 sat half-filled on my desktop for over two months. Over the last two weeks I finally got around to finishing the grid and writing the clues.

On the subject of Unthemely crosswords, I want to remind you that my book Fresh Freestyle Crosswords will be released later this year. I recently received the first review copy and am very pleased with

CURRICULUM VITAE: John Ratite’s Custodia Islands Getaway



Players compete in a trivia competition set on a fictional chain of tropical islands. Each island contains locations where players can answer trivia questions to earn coins. Coins are used to purchase a various game advantages as well as tickets for a ferry that transports players to the next island. The players begin the game assigned to “tour groups,” similar to the tribes in the reality series Survivor, and the last group to have all its members reach the ferry with tickets must vote a member out. The tour groups diminish and players eventually compete as individuals. The last player to avoid elimination wins.

* * *

Custodia Islands Getaway was presented in the early part of 2013 as a sequel to John Ratite’s Fun House. The game, like its predecessor, was presented on the message boards of the Grey Labyrinth website. 23 players “made reservations” for the Getaway and Qaqaq (Trip Payne) edged out mole and Tahnan in the final round to become the overall game winner.

The trivia game was structured in a similar manner to Fun House with alternating movement and action rounds. While the game play was principally influenced by Survivor the islands were themed by a variety of personal interests such as game shows and The Simpsons. The terrain was riddled with obstacles that could be circumvented by the purchase of climbing ropes, spelunking kits, and other items. The trivia question were pitched at a moderate level and the challenges experienced by most players involved navigation and coaxing teammates to participate in a timely manner in order to avoid elimination votes.

PUZZLE: Rice Milk #25


FIRST (6 6) / SECOND (4 2 6)

“For your Mother’s Day breakfast in bed,
I’ve beat eggs for a FIRST,” cried King Oed.
“As you eat, I will sing
SECOND‘ just like the King.”
“Too much ham,” was what Jocasta said.

Comments contain the answer to Rice Milk #24 and may contain other spoilers. For information on solving transposals and other “flat” (verse puzzle) types, visit the National Puzzlers’ League’s Online Guide to the Enigma.

DASH 008


The annual DASH puzzle hunt was took place on Saturday in 17 cities throughout the world, including Denver. A late-spring snow shower in the Mile High City did not deter 60 brilliant solvers on 13 teams from having an enjoyable afternoon solving puzzles in various downtown locations.

My local puzzle hunt friends all had conflicts this year. I considered traveling and joining a team with friends in another city but I wanted to support the event in my hometown so I decided to volunteer. I contacted Melanie Schultz, the lead coordinator for Denver DASH, and she added me to the organizing team. The opening location for Denver DASH was my workplace Puzzah! so I proved an asset by knowing where chairs, tables, and event materials are stored. I played “BOSS” in the opening skit that established the secret agent theme of this year’s hunt. I played a baccarat dealer in the lobby area of Puzzah!, which served as the second puzzle locations, and then I resumed my role of BOSS to hand out puzzles at Union Station later in the hunt.

The international DASH committee commissions the puzzles and dictates the hunt structure but the local coordinators need to determine puzzle locations in the host cities. Outdoor parks and shopping areas are popular selections because they are free to the public and have ample solving space. Inclement weather causes challenges because some cities do not have a wealth of indoor locations that are free to the public, commodious to puzzle solving, and in close, walkable proximity. The Denver DASH bad-weather route had a few hiccups. Representatives of the Performing Arts Complex rescinded the use of indoor space that was previously granted and the bar that agreed to host the endgame puzzles became disagreeable when the solving session ran long and extended into the Stanley Cup playoff broadcast. But the solvers were positive and adaptable, making efforts to patronize retail locations that were generous enough to offer shelter from the snow.

The volunteers were given the opportunity to test the DASH puzzles a few weeks beforehand. I was unable to participate in the test-solving because the Denver session was scheduled for the same day as my nephew Ian’s stage performance in Tarzan. Melanie sent me a link to the puzzle print sheets a few days before DASH. I solved the first seven puzzles before Saturday event and the last two on Sunday morning (puzzle 8 requires the assembly of 27 wooden cubes with stickers covering the cube faces, and I decided it would be better to solve the puzzle after collecting the physical materials at the event rather than printing and constructing hollow paper cubes in advance). DASH solvers use the ClueKeeper phone app to check puzzle answers, receive hints, and register solving times for scoring purposes. I didn’t have ClueKeeper for my solo solve so I did my best without answer confirmations or hints, though I did check the “Normal” version of the intro page (i.e., easier than the “Expert” version) on several puzzles. I didn’t set any time records but I did manage to complete all nine puzzles.

The narrative of DASH008 involves an international criminal organization called GHOST that has manufactured a doomsday device. Solvers play spies who are tasked with intercepting a double agent, finding GHOST headquarters, and destroying the device. The puzzles include many clever elements related to James Bond-style plots. The aforementioned 27-cube puzzle is a marvelous construction. The baccarat puzzle, in which solvers analyze a stacked deck in order to beat the dealer, is also fun (in the test version I simply received an ordered list of the cards in the deck but on-site solvers received an actual marked deck of cards!) Some puzzles require Internet research for no particularly good reason and others lean heavily on cipher tropes but the overall puzzle set is solid. I do sense that DASH is becoming more focused on high-production-value puzzles. It makes sense to cater to the primary solving demographic but I fear this mission creep will discourage novice puzzlers who were attracted to DASH for its simplicity, both in solving challenge and design. The puzzle I handed out at Union Station followed a particularly diabolical one that involved folding origami cranes, noting symbols that became aligned on the completed cranes, and then subjecting those symbols to progressively complicated coding schemes. As I handed out the Union Station puzzle, several teams reported that the origami puzzle was interesting but too confusing and time consuming so they opted to skip it due to time budgeted for the overall activity.

One fun side activity associated with being a DASH volunteer was co-solving Puzzled Pint puzzles with Melanie in the bar while the DASH solvers were finishing up the final spy puzzles. Melanie mentioned that she was pursuing a Denver presence for the puzzle activity played in bars in other world cities. We worked on puzzles written by my friend Wil Zambole and talked about puzzles and games in general. Even though my old puzzle friends were out of town for this year’s DASH I was glad to make some new friends.

ETA: The results have now been posted and I see that only two of the Denver teams skipped the origami puzzle and all but two of the teams that completed it finished faster than the par time of 75 minutes. I apparently misinterpreted the reactions from the solvers in the moment.